Paul Duffy/SHANNON

AEROFLOT-RUSSIAN International Airlines (ARIA) could now be over the worst of the transition to market economics, suggests director general Vladimir Tikhonov, presenting the carrier's latest annual results.

The 1994 figures show that ARIA's passenger volume fell for the fourth year in succession, edging down to below 3 million. Before the collapse in 1990, passenger numbers had been close to 5 million. Cargo traffic, although still down from the peak, showed a 5% improvement over 1993, however.

Net profits for the year are given at nearly 250 billion roubles ($55 million) on sales of 2,155 billion roubles, although comparisons with previous years are meaningless, because of Russia's spiraling inflation.

Taken at face value, the figures show a healthy net return of 11.5% on sales and an operating margin of nearly 17%, but the usual cautions apply about the vagaries of Russian accounting standards. The accounts also show long-term debt of 1,286 billion roubles, which was absent from the 1993 balance sheet, but its appearance is not explained.

Despite the apparently encouraging figures, there are reports from Russia that Tikhonov's position could be under threat. Marshall Shaposhnikov, a former defence minister, has been identified as a possible replacement, but he will not comment on the rumours. Tikhonov was on holiday when the speculation began, but is understood to be returning urgently to Moscow.

In the accounts, Tikhonov suggests that 1994 may at last prove to be the end of the downturn for ARIA, but he admits that the airline needs to improve its international reputation and to raise the standard of its aircraft for business travelers.

That is likely to mean an upgrading, rather than an expansion, of the existing fleet, which Tikhonov believes is adequate at 116 aircraft. The most modern aircraft within the fleet are four Airbus A310s, two Boeing 767-300s and five new-generation Ilyushin Il-96-300s.

Another 20 Il-96M/Ts are on order, and ARIA is due to take up to 40 of the long-delayed Tupolev Tu-204. Tikhonov under-lines that ARIA should help to develop the domestic-aircraft industry, rather than rely on foreign aircraft.

ARIA now operates to 154 cities in 108 countries and, during 1994, began operations to capitals within the CIS, formerly treated as domestic services. This is to be expanded this year.

Source: Flight International